Jung’s Divided Family: Jung on Theory

“Jung’s Divided Family:” Jung on Theory

Theories in psychology are the very devil…

Jung (1938)[2]

The psychotherapist should realize that so long as he believes in a theory and in a definite method he is likely to be fooled by certain cases, namely by those clever enough to select a safe hiding-place for themselves behind the trappings of the theory,…

Jung (1946)[3]


… it is imperative that we should not pare down the meaning of the dream to fit some narrow doctrine… Therefore I leave theory aside as much as possible…

Jung (1933)[4]


You get nowhere with theories. Try to be simple and … follow your nose….

Jung (1950)[5]


I always stumble over the frequent use of the term “theory” or “system.” … I have no “theory” but I describe facts. I do not theorize about how neuroses originate,… Nor have I any theory of dreams…

Jung (1956)[6]


This essay arose as a more in-depth response to a question a student recently posed to me: Why am I not active in the local network of type practitioners? Aside from the sheer reality of limited time (working 80 hours a week doesn’t leave lots of free time!),[7] there are other reasons—reasons that provide an opportunity to discuss Jung’s attitude toward theories. Before discussing Jung on theory, I need to explain what I mean by “type practitioners” and how Jung came to develop his ideas around type.

In previous essays on this blog site,[8] I referred to Jung’s work on psychological type and how our American type is ESTJ—Extraverted in orientation, Sensate in how we gather information (via our senses), Thinking in how we go about making decisions (using logic, reason and objective bases for our choices), and Judging in how we handle time (punctually, with order and organization, preferring closure and decisiveness). Jung developed his ideas about the different personality temperaments in his effort to understand his split with Freud.[9] He came to conclude that he and Freud were different types, Freud being an ESFJ, while Jung was an INTP.[10] In volume 6 of his Collected Works Jung explicated his ideas.[11]

CW 6 was translated into English in 1923, and was quickly taken up by Katherine Cook Briggs, a highly-educated and prolific American author who became a passionate advocate of Jung’s ideas on personality differences and an expander of his system.[12] She wrote six letters to Jung, visited him in New Haven in 1937 when he came to the United States to deliver the Terry Lectures, and got her daughter, Isabel, involved in her work to extend Jung’s type idea farther. Together Katherine and Isabel (who married Clarence Myers) added the J/P difference and developed a “type instrument” that they used to determine individuals’ type.[13] This instrument has come to be known as the “Myers-Briggs Type Instrument” or the MBTI, and the people who are trained to administer it are “type practitioners.” The MBTI is one of the most widely-used and thoroughly-tested of all the various psychological tests, as well as being perhaps the psychological instrument with the widest application in corporate business, schools, government and other venues.[14]

Jung however lost interest in types. Myths, legends, archetypes and, in later life, alchemy, came to supercede the subject of type in his research and writing.[15] Some people in Jungian circles claimed that Jung had “disowned” type theory.[16] After her mother died, Isabel Myers pursued her work with type for decades with very little input from Jung or the community of Jungian analysts.[17] The result? What John Giannini, a Jungian analyst and student of type, calls “Jung’s Divided Family.”

In chapter 11 of his Compass of the Soul,[18] Giannini tries to explain this division: why analysts have so little involvement with typologists, and why so few type practitioners get into other aspects of Jung’s work. He offers many reasons—e.g. the E and I differences (that most type practitioners are Extraverts, oriented to outer reality, while most analysts are Introverts, oriented to the inner life);[19] the collective versus the individual focus (most typologists deal with collectives—businesses, schools, social groups etc., while analysts work with individual persons in one-to-one settings);[20] the “boxed-in” quality of Myers’ type table[21]—but I feel he misses a crucial point that is the main reason I have not pursued the type idea.

It is my impression that most type practitioners regard the MBTI and the ideas undergirding it as well-tested and verified theories, finely honed and refined into a very solid instrument that can describe the individual, his/her superior, auxiliary and inferior functions, anima or animus. Some years ago I undertook the training to be certified to administer the MBTI and sat through the many hours this entails. I discovered there that,

with the results of the MBTI in front of him/her, a well-trained type practitioner can make all sorts of statements about a person that he/she has never met. To a Feeling type (like me) this seems to put theory before the individual person, and I found it very cold. As Dostoyevsky said of Raskolnikov, “…he was young, abstract and therefore cruel.”[22]

Perhaps Jung was aware of the potential for cruelty when theory supplants the personal. Certainly, as the quotes opening this essay note, Jung was aware that theory has little use in psychology, in the treatment of souls, in the handling of dreams, or in working with symbols. Jung noted, in the context of working with patients, that

“Theoretical formulations give one absolutely no idea of the practice, which is infinitely more multifaceted and alive than any theory could convey.”[23]  The practice of Jungian analysis is “multifaceted” because it is personal, focused on the unique individual sitting before the analyst, a being who cannot be known through theories or abstractions, much as a map cannot capture the true nature of a territory, or a painting the depth of a soul.

As I sat through the hours of MBTI training I found myself recalling the myth of Procrustes and his bed


… Polypemon or Damastes… was nicknamed Procrustes, “Beater,” because of the way in which he dealt with the wayfarers whom he lured into his house on the promise of hospitality. He forced his victim to lie on one of his two beds, one of which was short and one long, then saw to it that they exactly fitted the bed. He put short men into the long bed and hammered them to length, tall men into the short bed and lopped off their extremities…. Theseus meted out this same treatment to him.[24]


It seemed to me that the whole theoretical orientation of type practice was asking me to lay out a “Procrustean bed” for any customer who might come my way. Did I really want to use some theoretical construct as the basis for beginning a person-to-person relationship? Wasn’t there the possibility that the individual might show up in reality in a configuration that differed from the MBTI results? I recalled my experience when I began my analysis, reporting to my analyst that my MBTI type was ISTJ. She shook her head, knowing that was not my true type, and how right she was. So what about us “turn types”?[25] How would the MBTI theory handle us?

Jung recognized how “highly abstract and exclusively rational”[26] theory is and, as such, how inappropriate it is in the context of analysis. An analyst works via his “nose,”[27] i.e. intuition, and handles contents offered up from the psyche, much of which is irrational,[28] not susceptible to the logic of theory. Jung also knew that when theory is primary, the person is lost. When theory is the starting point, the method is not empirical.

Jung described himself repeatedly as an empiricist: “I am thoroughly empirical and therefore I have no system at all.”[29] He handled each patient in a unique way,[30] never following a model or theory—all in order to respond to the vagaries of the psyche. In a letter giving feedback to his student Jolande Jacobi on a book she was writing, he said:


… I always stumble over the frequent use of the term “theory” or “system.” Freud has a “theory,” I have no “theory” but I describe facts. I do not theorize about how neuroses originate, I describe what you find in neuroses. Nor have I any theory of dreams, I only indicate what kind of method I use and what the possible results are. I must emphasize this because people always fail to see that I am talking about and naming facts, and that my concepts are mere names and not philosophical terms.[31]


Given the Thinking bias in Western culture (and certainly in American society) it is hard for people to appreciate Jung’s negative take on theory. Given how difficult Jung is to read[32] it is understandable why so few type practitioners are familiar with the wider range of Jung’s work, but the result is to leave them bereft of Jung’s warnings about the dangers of theorizing when we deal with human beings. As a Feeling type I shy away from the impersonal and theoretical, and I think many Jungian analysts do too.




Dostoyevsky, Fyodor (n.d.), Crime and Punishment. New York: Modern Library.

Giannini, John (2004), Compass of the Soul. Gainesville FL: Center for Applications of Psychological Type.

Hannah, Barbara (1976), Jung: His Life and Work, A Biographical Memoir. New York: G.P. Putnam.

Jung, C.G. (1971), “Psychological Types,” Collected Works, 6. Princeton: Princeton University Press

________ (1966), “Two Essays on Analytical Psychology,” CW 7. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1960), ”The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche,” CW 8. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1959), ”The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious,” CW 9i. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1959), “Aion,” Collected Works, 9ii. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1969), “Psychology and Religion: West and East,” CW 11. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1953), “Psychology and Alchemy,” CW 12. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1967), “Alchemical Studies,” CW 13. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1963), “Mysterium Coniunctionis,” CW 14. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1954), “The Practice of Psychotherapy,” CW 16, 2nd ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1954), “The Development of Personality,” CW 17. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1976), ”The Symbolic Life,” CW 18. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1975), Letters, ed. Gerhard Adler & Aniela Jaffé. 2 vols. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1965), Memories, Dreams, Reflections. New York: Vintage Books.

Kroeger, Otto & Janet Thuesen (1988), Type Talk. New York: Dell.

March, Jenny (1998), Dictionary of Classical Mythology. London: Cassell







[1] This is the title of chapter 11 of John Giannini’s Compass of the Soul; Giannini (2004), 469.

[2] “Foreword to the Third Edition” of “Psychic Conflicts in a Child,” Collected Works, 17, p. 7. Hereafter Collected Works will be abbreviated CW.

[3] Ibid., ¶202.

[4] CW 16, ¶318.

[5] “Letter to Dr. N,” 10 June 1950; Letters, I, 559.

[6] “Letter to Jolande Jacobi,” 13 March 1956; Letters, II, 293.

[7] Why such long hours? Besides teaching at a local college I run the Jungian Center (administrative tasks), write these blog essays, create new courses (56 courses between 2005 and 2012, plus 23 distance-learning courses), work one-on-one with a dozen dream students, and maintain an active consultancy in astrology. As a result I have on average about 5 hours a week when I am not eating, sleeping or doing the work I love.

[8] See “What is America’s Shadow?,” “Jung and Buridan’s Ass,” “Jung the Man: Part III,” “Jung on the J & P Attitudes.”

[9] Jung (1965), 207.

[10] Giannini (2004), 28.

[11] CW 6, ¶1-671.

[12] Giannini (2004), 28.

[13] Ibid., 37.

[14] Kroeger & Thuesen (1988), 282-284.

[15] See CW 7,8,9i,9ii,12,13,14 and 18.

[16] Mary McCaulley (co-founder in 1975 with Isabel Myers of the Center for Application of Psychological Type) said she heard this from “many analysts.” See her “Preface” in Giannini (2004), xviii.

[17] Ibid., xx.

[18] Ibid., 469-508.

[19] Ibid., 470.

[20] Ibid., 471.

[21] Ibid., 491.

[22] Dostoyevsky (n.d.), Part IV, ch, IV, 308.

[23] “Letter to Karl Srnetz,” 19 December 1942; Letters, I, 324.

[24] March (1998), 336.

[25] Jung felt such violations of a child’s natural disposition would set up the person for a neurosis in later life; CW 6, ¶560.

[26] CW 11, ¶81.

[27] “Letter to Dr. N,” 10 June 1950; Letters, I, 559.

[28] CW 11, ¶81.

[29] “Letter to Calvin S. Hall,” 6 October 1954; Letters, II, 185.

[30] Hannah (1976), 202.

[31] “Letter to Jolande Jacobi,” 13 March 1956; Letters, II, 293.

[32] I often tell my students (who complain about Jung’s non-linear style, erudite vocabulary, classical and mythological allusions and lengthy digressions) that Jung is easy to read if you are fluent in Latin, Greek, French and German and thoroughly versed in astrology, mythology, numerology, symbology, Gnosticism, mysticism, Kabbalah and alchemy. My 30 years’ immersion in Jung and his works makes me very grateful for my training as a medievalist.